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Thread: Do You Need Better Cardio Training?

  1. #1

    Do You Need Better Cardio Training?

    It all started last August in Long Beach. And no it doesn't involve Snoop and a giant bag of weed but something much more sinister in regards to the fitness world: Aerobic training!

    I was at the Perform Better Fitness Summit at a talk by Bill Hartman on energy system training for field athletes. Despite the fact that I don't train any field athletes Bill is one of the smartest people I've ever met so there was no way I'd skip the opportunity to absorb some knowledge from him. He has also put out some of the best DVDs and books on assessments and corrective exercises, so if you are a trainer hit up his site.

    As informative as Bill's talk was at the time the material on improving the general conditioning level of athletes, and in particular the aerobic capacity, was not applicable to my clientele at the time.

    Fast forward to this summer and I've started training some cyclists here at EFL, a couple of whom are Category A cyclocross competitors, which means they are faster than I. And since I'm also a newbie in cross racing I thought back to Bill's talk and started looking into how methods he presented may help improve aerobic conditioning.



    Think hill sprints carrying a muddy bike sound fun? Welcome to cyclocross!

    Over the past year I've delved into all the available information I could find on strength and conditioning for cycling, and in particular cycling events that are shorter in nature (60 minutes) and require the ability to produce very high power outputs repeatedly.

    While reading books, magazines, and online content on cycling specific development I had to put on my filter since the majority of those sources inevitably advocate 5 or 6 days a week on the bike and not much else. If one is a professional cyclist this may be applicable, but even pros spend a significant amount of time off the bike developing strength and energy systems. Their coaches know that work in the gym will help prevent injury through improved core strength, working out imbalances, postural issues, and so on.

    This is a MAJOR point I think most runners and cyclists fail to understand. If you spend the majority of your day sitting at work then go out and only run or bike then your strength levels will be compromised to say the least, not to mention the possibility of problems due to poor posture, tight hip flexors (think sitting at a desk then sitting on a bike for hours too much in the same hunched over position).
    But that is a topic for another day.

    I found some commonalities in training approaches by some coaches of top cyclists who advocated dedicating a good portion of training to developing the upper reaches of aerobic capacity through intervals of anywhere from 2 to 12 minutes. In other words they stressed working at high intensities for defined shorter periods rather than mileage.

    Bill's material on aerobic capacity development draws from the work of MMA coach Joel Jamieson, who's own work builds upon the work of Ukranian coach Val Nsedkin, and some famous Russian sports coaches such as Dr. Vladimir Issurin, Yuri Verkhoshansky, and others.

    Essentially what all these individuals did was look at what factors enhance sport performance, which often comes down to how much force one can produce, how long one can produce it for, all of which equals speed. And most often the person that can move the fastest for longer wins.

    The term "little engine" refers to the mitochondria, which are an organelle in our muscles, microscopic components of cells where aerobic respiration occurs. Aerobic respiration is the use of oxygen to drive the chemical conversion of the energy stored in organic molecules into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the form of energy our cell's molecular machinery needs to run our bodies. Without ATP our muscles will not work and movement stops.



    These guys figured out ways in which to increase the number of mitochondria in our slow AND fast twitch muscles, which allows a person to produce more energy aerobically, thereby reducing demands upon the anaerobic energy systems (which fatigue rapidly). This will ultimately allow a person to go a bit faster for longer before crossing the anaerobic threshold.

    What Bill had found with athletes and military personnel he trained was that many were well developed strength-wise but relatively poorly developed aerobically. The trick is to determine the requirements of the sport or activity being trained for then assess the person to figure out where they need more work, then program for that. We all know that it's hard to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time (for non-newbies). The same holds true for strength and power vs. aerobic development. Athletes such as a shot putter that train primarily for power would have lower aerobic levels than an 5000 meter runner.

    However, the point Bill, Joel, and others training MMA athletes, soccer players and so on have realized is that any sport that requires fairly steady efforts for longer than a couple of minutes require a significant contribution from the aerobic system, which is why we see so many MMA fighters gas out in the first round. The orthodox training now is high intensity short circuits good for anaerobic development and power, but may actually end up decreasing aerobic levels.

    When it comes to cycling obviously the aerobic system is paramount. However with something such as cyclocross that features short bursts of very high power output when running or riding up a steep muddy hill, or making a pass, the alactic and anaerobic systems have a big role too. This is why a cross race leaves most people dry heaving they simply aren't conditioned to the high intensity efforts.

    In this respect I think there are similarities between sports such as MMA, soccer, and cyclocross. There is high aerobic demand, but also significant demand on the other energy systems. Training to develop these systems to a high degree therefore takes some thought and careful assessing otherwise you could end up training too many systems at once which leads to limited development at best.

    And for those gym rats that don't do much other than lift, think of conditioning as another way to improve your work capacity. In other words if all you ever do are standard 3-15 rep sets and short interval work (HIIT) then you are likely leaving a lot of potential progress on the table due to a relatively undertrained aerobic capacity. In other words the more efficiently your heart can oxygenate muscles, and the more mitochondria your muscles have the longer it takes to fatigue, thus your work capacity will go up.

    Besides, do you wanna be the guy/girl that looks great but can't survive a hike or bike ride that your skinnyfat neighbor could do with one chicken leg tied behind their undefined back?
    Balance.

    For those interested in starting this training one biomarker that needs to be established is aerobic threshold, or the point at which an intensity is reached where the anaerobic systems starts to provide more energy than the aerobic. The higher your aerobic threshold is the longer it takes you to fatigue.

    Joel Jamieson suggests doing 15 minutes of hard sparring then taking your average heart rate, but really any hard steady state exercise will do. Many cycling coaches suggest doing a 10 to 20 minute time trial and looking at the average heart rate.

    Once this is established than one method to increase aerobic threshold is by doing fairly longish intervals (3 to 12 minutes) in a progressive fashion, with plenty of rest and attention paid to local muscular effects all of which serves to boost the mitochondria in the muscles worked. So if you are looking to increase just lower body mitochondria along with aerobic threshold then cycling, hill running, or step ups would all work. If your sport requires more upper body contribution, such as boxing or martial arts then a battling rope may be an interesting option.

    If you are not training for a particular sport or activity then more general full body circuits can be done.

    Bill has athletes do up to 20 minute sets of continuous step ups with loads significant enough to stimulate fast twitch muscle fibers, yet at a pace that keeps their heart rate just under the aerobic threshold. Some guys may work up to 2 or 3 series in one session yes that is one hour of step ups. Val Nsedkin calls this high intensity continuous training.

    All excited to go out and try that huh?

    If that means my cyclists get faster and I suck less wind running up a muddy hill carrying my bike then let the cruelty begin!

    These are but a few methods among many possibilities, but figuring out which are best suited to where you is far beyond the scope of this article. Google is your friend.

    For more info check out Joel Jamieson's "Ultimate MMA Conditioning" book, and register on his 8weeksout.com site for more good reading.

    Elemental Fitness Lab Blog.

  2. #2
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    Do You Need Better Cardio Training?

    Super article, my friend. I am sure we all know the guy who is damn strong, but breaks a sweat and gets winded just climbing a few flights of steps. I also like the way that you don't give the trainer's standard playbook for your clients, but do the homework, sift throught the bullshit and come up with the goods.

    BTW, Bill is amazing. He has forgotten more than most trainers have learned in a lifetime.

  3. #3
    Administrator Roland Denzel's Avatar
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    Do You Need Better Cardio Training?

    20 minutes of step ups...

  4. #4

    Do You Need Better Cardio Training?

    Thanks John, and yes Bill is a walking compendium of training knowledge. There is a lot of similarity in material from top running, cycling, rowing, weightlifting, MMA, soccer etc... coaches. The trick is to identify the principles behind their programming and find what is applicable to your needs, then how to implement it correctly.

    Roland, yesterday I did a 12 minute set of those HICT lunges alternating 70lbs for as long as I could hold it, and 30lbs staying at around 150HR. Working my way up. Not as hard as you would think.

    Followed that up with a 12 minute set of clean and jerks w 24kg bell however, which was a tough combo. Compatible training methods though for specific lower body work.

  5. #5
    Administrator Roland Denzel's Avatar
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    Do You Need Better Cardio Training?

    Yuck. Although I can envision it. I'm in the process of training for a one hour kettlebell event, and I'm up to two 10 minute sessions. Today I need to extend to three 10 minute sessions and possible start into 20 minute long runs. It's not pleasant, so I have to look forward at the goal and results.

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